King James Bible Anniversary Exhibition

17:55 Monday 17th January 2011
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: A five-month exhibition about the creation of the Kings James Bible will open at Cambridge University’s library tomorrow. Experts believe that the bible, published four hundred years ago this year, had an extraordinary effect on our language, and phrases that first appeared then are still in use now. Things like “refusing to give up the ghost” “the salt of the earth” and “a law unto ourself” are some of the phrases which we still use today. The exhibition traces the history of bible translation, and examines the reception the King James version was given. Well earlier I spoke to Peter Meadows. He’s a librarian from the University’s Bible Society, and he told me why the exhibition is so important. (TAPE)
PETER MEADOWS: It’s the culmination of a long process of translating the Bible into English, which happened in the preceding century. But it’s also probably the best piece of prose composed by a committee, rather than a single author or translator. There were six companies of translators, two at Cambridge, two at Oxford, and two in London, and each committee had six to eight scholars. And amongst them they worked on particular books of the Bible. And all these scholarly inputs were merged together into this wonderful piece of prose.
ANDY BURROWS: And what was the reaction at the time?
PETER MEADOWS: It took quite a time to become popular, I think. When it was first published in 1611 it was a huge book for churches, for lecterns in churches. People in their own homes were still using the Geneva Bible of 50 years previously, which had been translated by English exiles on the Continent.
ANDY BURROWS: And I understand that academics at the time, or scholars rather, took delight in pointing out its errors.
PETER MEADOWS: Yes. The errors crept into subsequent editions really. Of course the editions had to be put together with movable type, and it was very easy to make slips. And some are more serious than others.
ANDY BURROWS: Anything spring to mind?
PETER MEADOWS: Well, the Wicked Bible of 1631. The Kings printer did this edition, and missed out a word from the Ten Commandments, so that it came out as “Thou shalt commit adultery.” (THEY LAUGH) And as a result he was fined three hundred pounds, which equates to about half a million in today’s money, and reprimanded, and spent the rest of his life in debtor’s prison.
ANDY BURROWS: Good grief. Good grief. In terms of personal satisfaction Peter, what does this mean to you, this exhibition?
PETER MEADOWS: It means to me that I have done an exhibition at the University Library. Over the course of our careers, not many of my colleagues are involved in doing exhibitions. This is the first one that I have done, and it brings together some of my interests and expertise in the Library, and that I look after the Bible Society Library, and I’m also the Archivist to the Bishop of Ely. So a lot of my interests have come together in this exhibition. (LIVE)
ANDY BURROWS: I’m sure they have. Lovely man. Peter Meadows, a librarian from the University’s Bible Society.